One In a Million: Emily Zelazny


One In A Million Feature: January 2020

Name: Emily Zelazny

School: Dos Rios Elementary

Grade: 4

 How long have you been a teacher? This is my first year teaching!

What made you get into the teaching profession?
Although I went to school for teaching, I was unsure I wanted to be an educator until last spring when I student taught in a fourth grade class. Every morning, I would go around the room and play games with the students before class began. Initially, this was a way for me to feel more comfortable in the classroom as it was a new experience for me and I was nervous to teach in front of twenty-five kids, but as weeks passed, I suddenly learned that I was creating bonds with the students without even trying. I found myself caring for students and worrying about them and exhibiting all sorts of emotions that I didn’t know would accompany the profession, all because I created strong relationships with the students. There was one student in particular who had a lasting impact on myself. He had some trouble controlling his emotions, maintaining friendships, and doing what was expected in class. He and I ended up eating lunch together, playing at recess, and having wonderfully in depth conversations about Minecraft. By the end of my semester, he seemed like a whole new student. He was following class expectations and had a strong group of friends. It was hard to say goodbye when my time was over, as I had not realized what an impact the students have on the teacher. It is a feeling like no other, to know that you helped a child not only academically, but also emotionally. Luckily, this past fall break I went back to Missoula and visited Russell Elementary. I received the biggest hug from this particular (now) fifth grader. I knew after student teaching that this was the career path for me. I swear, your heart grows one hundred times its size when you are a teacher!

Who was your most inspirational teacher and why?
Before I moved to Arizona, I student taught in Missoula, Montana at Russell Elementary. I was incredibly fortunate to be the student teacher of Sandy Whatman, a fellow fourth grade educator. I cannot express into words the impact that she had on me. What was the most inspiring, was that she built a solid relationship with each and every one of her students. She took the time to know the ins-and-outs in each of their lives. It built an atmosphere of trust and respect. I would watch her have full length discussions with students about novels meant for fourth graders, because she took the time to read a book suggested by a student in her class. She would stock a fridge in her room with snacks for the students who didn’t have food at home. The students cared for her so greatly that they wanted to succeed. What was even more beautiful was watching her reaction to students who struggled academically demonstrate success in her classroom. She was absolutely ecstatic whenever a student read a word they couldn’t read months ago, or answer a math problem when a week ago they couldn’t subtract. There were some students who came from tough backgrounds and may not have had support or encouragement at home, but Mrs. Whatman made up for it. She found a way to make sure each one of her students felt acknowledged, safe, respected, and successful in her room. I am so grateful to have taught beside her as everything she showed me, I have taken into my own classroom.

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges teachers in Arizona face right now?
Although this is my first year teaching, I believe there is one challenge in particular that is difficult to ignore. It is no question that Arizona educators do not enter the career for the money, but the salaries are quite slim that it is difficult to pay for day to day necessities sometimes. Teachers wake up at 5:00am to be at school by 6:00, and sometimes do not leave until 6:00pm that night. For the work and long hours that teachers put in every single day, it can be discouraging to be paid so little, especially for those teachers that have families to care for in addition to themselves. Since a bachelor’s degree is required for this profession I believe that teachers need to be compensated and valued properly for the amount of time and effort they put into their jobs.

How do these issues affect your day to day?
My roommate and I are both first year teachers, and we moved across the country for our jobs. The initial move was a financial hit on its own, but now we have had months where we are cutting it very close when paying rent, student loans, groceries, and necessities for our pets. It can be a strong source of anxiety. I see so many things I want to do in my classroom as well, but it can be too costly as I buy most of my supplies. The students are the most important and they deserve to have exciting science experiments and social studies projects, but it is too expensive for me to purchase those items for them. I think if teachers were compensated more appropriately it would ultimately enhance the students’ experiences in the classroom due to the ability to purchase items needed to create memorable lessons.

What does the $250 tax deduction for school supplies for teachers mean to you?
It assists with the costs needed to have a functioning classroom. As a teacher you are sometimes buying supplies for individual students who don’t have their own, it’s very costly all in all, especially as a first year when I have had to purchase so many items. However, the $250 tax reduction definitely helps.

How are the expectations of becoming a teacher different than the reality?
A teacher’s day does not end when the bell rings. Hours extend late into the evenings and even on through the weekends. After school there is professional development training, entering grades, communicating with parents, lesson planning, teaching after school programs…the list goes on. It is an incredibly exhausting profession that there are days where a 6:00pm bedtime is ideal. In addition to the long hours, the amount of money spent on purchasing supplies is incredibly costly. Schools are usually pretty great at providing simple items, but they do not have the funds to provide unlimited supplies to each classroom. I have spent my own money on copies when the copier machine breaks down at school, paper, pencils and so on. The most expensive but valuable items in my class are books. The students love and want to read. I have had numerous trips to goodwill, used bookstores, and garage sales to create my little class library, but even with secondhand books, supplying your students with content to read is very expensive.

Why do you think teachers burn out so quickly?
From an outside perspective, it is easy to look at a teacher, and recognize that what they do is, teach. However, being a teacher means that you wear so many different hats. Teachers are performers, life coaches, role models, providers, and so much more. You are not just a teacher; you are someone for a child to confide in when they have difficulty with friends or at home. You are a listener, because every child’s story they tell you is important! It does not matter if they are telling you about what they had for dinner last night or about the dog they saw on the way to school. They are excited to share something with you and it is your job to listen and CARE! You are also someone in the classroom who must identify what makes a child exhibit a negative behavior and how you can help that child find coping mechanisms when they start to feel like they might act out. Sometimes this can be something a teacher does weekly, daily, or by the hour! A teacher’s job does not end when they leave at 5:00 or 6:00 either, once they are home it can be grading or even lesson planning through the evenings and weekends. All of this is in addition to the pressures that administration expects of them, too. A teacher carries so much on their shoulders that for the little they are compensated, sometimes it can just be too much, and unfortunately, they burn out.

What “fills your cup” when you’re running on empty?
I love seeing my students succeed. I have learned so much about them, and to see what they have achieved despite their circumstances is absolutely aw-inspiring. Just last month I watched one of my students write a paragraph, when months before they were unable to spell a single word. It is moments like that which make it all worth it.

What are some of the most thoughtful and effective ways parents and the community can show gratitude?

Just saying thank you is enough, however, I don’t know a single teacher that would ever say no to teacher appreciation discounts at shops or restaurants. J

What is your wish for Arizona’s children?

I wish that every child in Arizona knows that they have the ability to be successful. There is always a teacher there who believes in them, is there to support them, and knows that they can succeed no matter what.

 What additional support or supplies do you need in your classroom and who do people contact if they want to help out?

-Electric Pencil Sharpener

-Books (My class loves graphic novels like Dogman)

-Copy Paper (never enough)

-Loose Leaf Paper


-Expo Markers


-Meter Stick


-Colored Pencils

Contact Nicole Lozano, Office Manager at Dos Rios Elementary (623)-474-7000



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Growing the Tree

Million Dollar Teacher Tree was first developed in a classroom by students in a program called, Next Generation Service Corps at Arizona State University in December of 2017. These students were tasked by Lloyd Hopkins, founder of Million Dollar Teacher project with developing a project that can potentially become an integral part in helping MDTP achieve its mission. The group eventually developed the original prototype for Million Dollar Teacher Tree—a cutout dollar sign that would be placed in surrounding businesses near the partner school. The idea was pitched to staff members of MDTP during the last of their class, and the project was picked up by MDTP as a new pilot program for the organization. After many months of planning, the prototype was eventually revamped into what it is today, Million Dollar Teacher Tree.

Golden Apple

These apples are intended to provide any sort of Professional Development which, in turn, gifts them with key knowledge to add to their personal skill-set to better work with their students.

As educators, teachers are constantly looking to continually grow in their profession to not only learn how to better connect with their students, but to also make the learning experience much more exciting.

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Red Apple

These apples are designed to provide the typical day-to-day items in the classroom. Teachers spend can spend upwards of $1,000 out of pocket to have enough supplies yearlong for their students– to alleviate this, the Red Apples were created.

Everyday school supplies include; pencils, notebooks, crayons, hand sanitizer, etc.

Green Apple

These apples are intended to provide a big-ticket item for the teachers. These supplies are typically something that the teachers can use for more than one school year.

Examples include; a class-set of computers or new furniture for the classroom.

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